Ah, take a deep breath. You’ve finally completed the most daunting part of the task: having the actual talk. You’ve expressed your needs in the best way you know how, and can give yourself a pat on the back for acknowledging your fears and moving past them. By now, I hope you’ve seen our previous two posts in this series. The first was to help you organize your thoughts and feelings, and the second was geared to help you both get your point across and be open to your partner’s feedback. Now what?

Something about the spring (or maybe the pandemic?) seems to give people the push they need to get their relationships in order. About a month ago, I began hearing a theme in my sessions both with couples and individuals: How can I talk with my partner about the things that scare me the most? How can I get them to see and hear me?

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Other Blog Posts:

How to stay present when the future is uncertain​

The coronavirus has presented humankind with an immense number of difficulties, which can include anything from “what am I going to eat for lunch when the grocery store just feels too overwhelming” to “how am I going to continue planning my wedding when I don’t even know if we’ll be able to plan it,” all the way to “I am so concerned about my loved one’s health, and I can’t even see them.”

 

Complications that are arising are big and small, and exist both in the near future and in the future down the line. So, with all this confusion and uncertainty, how are you supposed to stay present and hold onto fleeting moments of joy? Why would you even want to do this? 

 

 

What does “staying present” mean?

Staying present is the ability to maintain awareness and a sense of connection with the moment you are currently in. This means you are focused and engaged, and not being held up by your thoughts about the next 47 things you have to do. Not organizing your grocery list, not scheduling out what you need to get done at work tomorrow, and not thinking about all the things that annoy you about your partner. Just wholly, fully, in the moment. 

 

Another word for this is “mindfulness.” Mindfulness is essentially the connection to your senses and your body. Being aware of your senses allows your brain to shift from anxious and racing thought patterns into a calmer and more grounded state. 

 

 

Why would I want to do this? This will not fix any of my problems.

Ah, excellent question. Let’s start with some fun facts. First of all, practicing mindfulness has been shown to decrease feelings of stress and improve overall sleep quality (check out the article here). It increases overall levels of life contentment and satisfaction, as well as work productivity. 

 

How does this happen? The goal of mindfulness is not actually to solve your problems. The goal is to help ground you in the moment so you can find the ability to step out of these thoughts that only stress you out. It may feel temporarily good to ruminate on an issue, but does how often does your rumination actually solve your problem? Unless you are setting aside time to plan and execute, you are likely just thinking about stressful things. This increases an emission of stress stress hormones, which makes it much more difficult to think clearly and execute decisions and actions efficiently (take a look at this article, aptly titled The Busier You Are, the More You Need Mindfulness). 

 

This is why taking that quick few minutes to be present and clear your head-- not completely, but just clear from stressors and ineffective rumination-- actually winds up increasing satisfaction as well as productivity. In fact, there is even evidence to suggest that mindfulness can increase life span and overall physical health. 

 

 

Ok, this sounds slightly more appealing. So how do I do it?

Below are a couple of suggestions and techniques designed to help the busiest of people and professionals take in the moment in a digestible way. Set reminders on your phone, or schedule in “mindful time” to create the habit of stepping out of your thoughts and into the moment. 

 

 

1) Notice your senses: 

 

Start with looking around the space you are in and naming 5 things you see. Describe each thing wholly; what color is it? What is its texture? 

Next, name 4 things you feel physically on your body. Do you have a tag that is itchy? Are your pants too loose? Are your feet too sweaty? 

After this, name 3 things you hear. Listen closely. Do you hear the heater? Or maybe birds chirping outside? If you can, then try for 2 things you smell, and 1 thing you taste. These are sometimes difficult, but remember the goal is not success or failure. It is only to be present and aware.

 

 

2) Narrate your actions:

 

This one might feel silly at first, but it is a great way to connect your mind to your body. If you are cooking, walking, or really doing anything that does not require serious thinking/brain power, you can narrate it! For example, if you are cooking your eggs in the morning, state “I am opening the fridge, I am opening the egg carton, I am taking out two eggs,” etc. 

 

 

3) Make lists:

Possibly counterintuitive, but actually very helpful. Make two lists, and separate them by what you can versus what you cannot control. Take a look at the “what you can control” list, and prioritize. Once you’ve figured out what you want to tackle first, schedule in a finite amount of time and get started. Partializing and breaking down goals and tasks will make it much less likely that you’ll have a lapse in focus, pick up your phone, and fall down a rabbit hole. 

 

 

4) Notice your breath:

Notice as air comes into your nose, and out of your mouth. What does it feel like? Do you feel your diaphragm expanding and contracting? Is your breathing shallow and quick or deep and slow? 

 

 

5) Mindful eating:

Find a snack you absolutely adore, and take a few moments with it. Notice the color, the texture, the temperature, and what it feels like when it melts in your mouth. Slow down the process of eating to stay in the moment. 

 

Practice makes progress

Don’t be too hard on yourself if you’re having a difficult time staying present, or if your mind is having a difficult time breaking the addiction to stress. After all, the drive to focus on stress and anxiety is a survival skill. Be patient with yourself and keep trying. The more effort you put in, the more the benefits explored earlier will begin to pop up in your life! 

 

Alyssa Ashenfarb, LCSW

 

 

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